Do you need to give up a certain quality of life to live on a sailboat?

Post updated May 15, 2018

Morgan and I have said to each other on a number of occasions that we haven’t felt that our lifestyle has been compromised at all, in terms of the activities we enjoy and the comforts we enjoy, in our new home living aboard.

Despite the drastic decreases in space from a nearly 3000 sq.ft. home to our sailboat – an estimated 380 sq.ft. of living space (42’ LOA x 13’ Beam x 0.70 or 70%, as we figure our boat/living space would occupy about 70% of that 42’x13’ footprint) – we’re still able to find our own space within this space. We’re still able to snuggle up to each other and watch a movie together in our salon. And we’re still able to pursue our passions with minimal disruption to our living environment… the most dramatic of the disruptions being me pulling out my studio monitors, mixing board, and guitars to record some music!

Even still, we have “enough” space that we can “disappear” all that gear, while not sacrificing vital stowage for stocking up and passage making.

Are we Minimalists if we’re not suffering?

I’ve recently observed, from a few sources, this notion that being a minimalist requires one to sacrifice their lifestyle in the pursuit of purging all worldly material possessions… and that may be true, if you aspire to be a minimalist Monk!

Having NOTHING does not a minimalist make, but having only what you need is the KEY here.

The subject of need is, well, highly subjective! It’s very trendy right now to live with as little as possible, where the new social currency is HOW MUCH you don’t “have”. While it’s always interesting to observe the limits of the human spirit and our ability to endure hardship, whether it’s self-imposed or due to misfortune, I personally can’t see the appeal of unnecessary hardship for the sake of character growth.

It always looks more like privilege guilt to me.

We fully recognize the privileges we’ve been afforded in this society… that we’re both young and reasonably attractive “white kids” from middle-class homes, born and raised in a “first-world” nation. I get it. Sometimes it’s extraordinarily difficult to observe the suffering of others while realizing the extreme wealth we’ve come to know as, just, “normal”.

It’s a staggering realization! So it somewhat “makes sense” that one could feel better about this realization when they look themselves in the mirror, in their 200 sq.ft. closet, with nothing but their backpack, and say “see man, you’re evening the score now bud!!”

But, don’t be fooled. This doesn’t change your “privilege”. This doesn’t make right all the wrong in the world. It just simply means you’ve chosen discomfort and sacrifice, and it’s probably meaningless.

It’s OK to be comfortable, it’s OK to dream and have success, and it’s also OK to realize your dreams and enjoy a degree of success while doing what you can to take only what you need to be comfortable and sustain that comfort. If you find yourself privileged enough to realize excess – in that you’ve also realized there’s much you don’t “need” – then give it away!!

That’s our plan, if we’re so fortunate to realize such good fortune!

What does Comfortable Minimalism look like?

So, for our purposes, we’ve been on a journey of discovery to learn what we DON’T need, in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle without sacrificing the activities that have brought us great joy in our lives, mutually and individually.

For example, we’ve been able to downsize (or minimize) our footprint in the following ways:

  • Our living space (see house pic above!)87% decrease
  • A mortgage + property taxes of $2000/mo, down to a moorage of $400/mo – 80% cost savings
  • An average of $400/mo for hydro (electricity), down to included in moorage – 100% cost savings
  • At least $800 in wood for heating over the winter, down to about $500 so far in diesel heating – 38% cost savings
  • We walked to work in Ucluelet, and we continue to walk to work, so vehicle expenses have been a wash; however, we’ll be selling our vehicle next month, which represents – savings of $100/mo for insurance
  • House insurance and boat insurance are relatively comparable, we’ll call it a wash (and worth the peace of mind)
  • We spent over $70K on home improvements, and so far we’ve spent $20K on boat improvements; and although one generally will get the monies back out of home improvements, we see the expenses as a wash here as well, as our boat IS our home and we directly benefit from the use and enjoyment of the maintenance and improvements to our vessel
  • And, our home IS our vacation… so the expenses we would normally incur on a fly-away vacation once every few years, usually $2K or so, we will instead put into our home and sailing experience (which we talk about in this article here)

This is a relatively general cost comparison, but it does illustrate the cumulative minimalism in terms of environmental footprint, as well as financial risk/burden. These figures are SIGNIFICANT when you factor in the premise of this article: we haven’t experienced any relative decrease to our quality of life, comfort and enjoyment!

So, what IS Minimalism, then?

Minimalism, truthfully, is a completely subjective concept. It’s a modern trend with classical roots in music, art and architecture. It can mean anything from austere interior design, to simply decluttering one’s home.

As with any subjective trend, the meanings and ideas about what minimalism is varied, and can be as simple to extreme as the characters who endeavour to introduce some more “simplicity” into their lives. Perhaps Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus framed it best, the authors of theminimalists.com, stating that

“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

For Morgan and I, it has been a road to something more closely resembling “freedom” (also a highly subjective ideology!). Whereby, aspiring to have the bigger, nicer house, flashiest car, most designer clothes, status and stock portfolios; filing into the ranks of the perpetual growth and excess model was not intrinsically rewarding to our natures.

To us, minimalism is being able to achieve all the lifestyle and experience goals we’d laid out for our lives, with less, and without sacrificing our comfort and quality of life.

For example, we could both work well into our late 50’s or early 60’s in order to amass enough money to take 10 years off and travel to all the places we’ve ever wanted to see. In order to achieve that, we’d need to continue to advance careers, buy and flip real-estate, invest, save, increase capital (which means increasing risk & liabilities), etc, etc. Or, we could simply endeavour to SPEND less, reduce our risks and liabilities, make enough to sustain our home and lifestyle and do all this while traveling. It still means work, but so does a 15 – 20 year career.

This model just means that our work is more closely related to our lifestyle goals – the whole “live where you work” idea.

Instead of us living in the city to make as much money as possible just so that we get to drive 3 hours to our boat and spend a month a year sailing, we find work where we want to be with our boat, doing jobs that are related to boat maintenance and e-commerce, and which allow us to travel and work. Of course, we make a fraction of our potential for earnings, but we also spend much more time where we want to be on work that is more closely aligned to our interests and values. We simply don’t need to make as much to do the things we’ve always wanted to do – all while not compromising on our comfort and lifestyle goals.

How about you?

Tell us about the steps you’ve taken to “simplify” your lifestyle, what has worked, the challenges, what just hasn’t worked, the comforts you’ve still been able to enjoy, or the comforts you’ve realized you’re missing and how you think you could improve your comfort while maintaining a “simplified” lifestyle. We find the subject fascinating, because there’s just no right or wrong way to be a “minimalist”. But we know it’s important to learn how to live with less!!

Thanks for reading!

  – Josh